Packard has learned a great deal about hockey over the last two seasons by watching the prolific pair of junior Tom Cavanagh and senior Tim Pettit. The two have combined to form, with whoever they are paired, the Crimson’s most offensively explosive line for two seasons running. Through a meticulous off-season training regime and an ever-burgeoning skill set, Packard has become the third element alongside Cavanagh and Pettit on Harvard’s top forward line.
Packard received the call up to the top line after senior Kenny Turano broke his ankle in a win over Vermont last weekend. His debut on the top forward line was phenomenal; in his first game he scored twice in a come from behind 6-4 win over the Catamounts.
“It was a fun weekend,” Packard said. “We got our first win, I got my first goal, and getting those off my back has given me some confidence.”
More impressive still was the way in which Packard scored his goals. For the first goal, he used his 6’5, 225-pound frame to get in front of the net, and broke a 3-3 tie when he popped a sharp pass from Pettit to the back of the net. For his second tally, Packard circled along the boards and behind around the net, cruising out in front of Vermont goalie Travis Russell, and wristing a shot past him with under a minute left in the second period.
For good measure, Packard also added an assist in the 2-2 tie to Dartmouth, giving his line both goals and all five points in the game against the Big Green, along with five points in the Vermont game. Since this line had never skated together for a substantial period of time, the dazzling performance last weekend spoke volumes about the natural chemistry between Packard and his new linemates.
“I love playing with both those guys, as we have a great natural chemistry since we each know our roles,” Packard said.
“We rate our kids, with 5 being the best they can be, 4—above average, 3—average, 2—below average, and 1—poor,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “I’ve never given a kid back-to-back fives. I gave Dennis back-to-back fives myself. I thought he was dominant.”
Captain Kenny Smith was not surprised with the success Packard has enjoyed early in the season. He describes Packard as a person who gets along with everybody, communicates well and keeps others motivated.
Keeping his new line partners motivated is not a concern, though. Packard described Pettit as having one of the best shots in the ECAC, and pointed to his brilliance in finding open areas on the ice. He praised Cavanagh for his tremendous ability to control the puck down low.
Packard believes that his own role is to use his physical size to create space for both his linemates. He has only recently started to use his size well, according to Mazzoleni.
“Dennis, early in his career, tried to play a cute game,” Mazzoleni said. “He’d come down and dangle the puck at you. Now he will drop his shoulder, use his body to protect the puck, and utilize his size and strength to get to the net.”
Many of his teammates believe that Packard has been successful because he has learned how to take advantage of his physical presence. Where as a freshman and sophomore Packard tried to rely on speed and puck handling, he now uses his size efficiently, whether it be in screening the goaltender or in punishing opponents along the boards.
Putting It Together
Having worked hard all offseason to get in the best shape of his life, Packard was prepared for his promotion to the top forward line. He and other teammates, including Pettit, lived together this summer and worked out four times a week, focusing on conditioning. He also joined with several of them to play in a summer league together.